Lovebox shouldn’t really be about one person. After all, the Victoria Park event has two days, multiple stages, and a huge array of artists from more genres than Spotify can name. Yet the spectre of Frank Ocean hangs over the weekend – seemingly that’s simply what happens when one of the defining artists in the game makes an all-too-rare live appearance.
Clash arrives on site mid-afternoon and heads straight to the main stage, where Mac Miller is busy entertaining a mammoth crowd. It’s a crisp set from the rapper – who previously graced our cover, doncha know – but even he seems to be in awe of what would come later, making frequent references to Frank Ocean in his set.
The New Gen project brought together some of the most vital audiences in grime, road rap, trap, wot-do-you-call-it earlier this year, a broad-ranging comp that set down roots a helluva lot deeper than most albums. As such, the New Gen showcase at the Noisey is hugely creative, with a plethora of guests helping to raise the bar that little bit higher. 67 certainly led the way – their cut ‘Gangland’ is already an underground anthem, and drew a field of lighters in the air as dusk began to draw near.
Moving from tent to tent, it was clear that fans had one thing on their mind, and one performance to catch. Frank Ocean opened a Blonded pop-up stall on site, with the queue stretching for over a hundred yards. Limited edition t-shirts were the prize, but many were left disappointed when the batch sold out in record speed.
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Solange defied doctor’s orders to play Lovebox, citing a clear bond with London as the driving force behind her ambition to reach Victoria Park. Not that fans could tell there was anything untoward – this was an energetic, wholly professional, and hugely inspiring set that showcased the full force of her artistry.
The material from ‘A Seat At The Table’ is already etched on to the mind of a generation, while ‘Losing You’ provides Lovebox with a real moment of unity. Sampha appears for the encore, a blazing rendition of ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ that echoes out over the heads of thousands upon thousands of fans.
Over on the main stage, fans are waiting for Frank. And waiting. And waiting. The elaborate stage design – there’s a huge walkway, and a circular stage in the middle of the crowd – means that a number of technical issues push back the stage time, then push it back again.
But of course he’s worth the wait. Arriving onstage in front of one of the biggest crowds Lovebox has ever summoned, Frank Ocean is an easy-going personality, the see-through shirt over his tee giving him a fluid, phantom-like presence. When lingering with his band or reaching out to the crowd, he seems to be in complete control of the set, rifling through his catalogue for countless special moments.
Material from ‘Blonde’ dominates the set, with ‘Chanel’ proving to be an early highlight. However it’s a sweetly sparse ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ from breakthrough record ‘Channel Orange’ that supplies the most overtly emotional display from the crowd – so much so, that Frank Ocean wheels back, and starts the song again.
With Spike Jonze seemingly channelling the visuals, it’s a set unlike any other; an oddly frustrating yet overwhelmingly inspiring presence, Frank Ocean seems to open up questions at every turn.
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Saturday can’t possibly compete, so Lovebox readies itself with a cracking line up of well-curated DJ and live acts. When Clash gets to the site Horse Meat Disco are just kicking off, and the team of disco crate-diggers supply almost infinite good vibes. Dixon lays down the law at the fabric tent, his muscular techno amplifying the energy of the Victoria Park crowd.
AJ Tracey rips it up at the Noisey stage, before Kano underlines his impact with a superb main stage slot. Last year’s ‘Made In The Manor’ took the MC back at the underground, a straight rap record from one of the best in the game.
Completely overhauling his live set, Kano moves between metal guitar lines on ‘Ps And Qs’ to a Theon Cross-indebted, brass-laden ‘New Banger’. Perpetually pointing to the future, he’s an artist that simply can’t be stopped.
Ricardo Villalobos has remained at the forefront of club culture for almost two decades now, and the techno godhead turns up in a superb set at the fabric stage – a frisky, impish presence, he opts for a harder, more straight up sound that some of his legendary productions, and it works, sending the crowd into a dervish in the process.
Annie Mac is a figure of concentration on the main stage, the selector picking up the joining line between the underground and the mainstream. It’s left to Chase & Status to bring the event to a close, with the production team utilising the full range of their experience for a stand out, explosive headline slot.
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Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Rob Meyers